Thursday, January 20, 2011

BACHELOR MOTHER (RKO 1939) Warner Archive Collection

Utterly nonsensical to the point of complete enchantment, Garson Kanin's Bachelor Mother (1939) remains a superior screwball comedy; a fanciful case of mistaken identity that gets blown all out of proportion to riotous effect in the board as well as the bed room. Based on an Oscar nominated tale by Felix Jackson, the screenplay by Norman Krasna develops its lighter than air scenario with complete believability - no small feat given the absurdity of the plot.

Ginger Rogers is Polly Parrish, a seasonal sales girl who spends her days winding mechanically quacking Donald Ducks inside the toy department of John B. Merlin & Sons; a lavishly appointed New York department store all decked out for the holidays. Unhappy chance that with the arrival of Christmas, Polly is being given the boot by her employer. While on her lunch break, Polly decides to look for other work.

Polly is stunned to see an elderly woman (Leona Roberts) depositing a baby in a basket on the front porch of the Foundling Home. The woman insists the baby is not hers, leaving Polly to bring the child inside. Unfortunately for Polly, both the Home's matron (Edna Holland) and its investigator (Ernest Truex) refuse to believe Polly when she emphatically tells them that she is not the mother.

After gleaning Polly's name and her place of employ for their own records, the Foundling Home's Investigator decides to take matters to the next level. He petitions Polly's boss, J.B. Merlin (Charles Coburn) to save her job. The matter is handed over to the company's Vice President, J.B.'s son, David (David Niven) who wastes no time in bestowing the good news on a bewildered Polly. However, when Polly learns that David thinks the foundling is hers she not only refuses his offer, but dumps the baby at the Merlin's palatial estate - taking off to 'Dreamland'- a dance club with floor walker, Freddie Miller (Frank Albertson) in the hopes of winning prize money that will allow her to move back home.

David tails Polly and Freddie to Dreamland, attempting to enter the competition himself to get closer to Polly and convince her to take back the child. Instead, he is considered a rowdy by the dance judge and tossed on his ear along with his butler (E.E. Clive) and the baby. Returning to Polly's apartment to wait for her, David and Polly exchange heated words. The apartment's owner, Mrs. Weiss (Ferike Boros) overhears their conversation and assumes that David is the baby's father. An understanding landlady with a heart of gold, Mrs. Weiss agrees to watch the baby while Polly goes to work at Merlin & Sons.

At first Polly is hurt and resentful of David's insistence that the baby belongs to her. However, gradually she begins to respect David's interferences. After all, any man who would do what he has done to secure a child's future can't be all bad. As Polly warms to David's philanthropy, David begins to fall in love with her. With no date for New Year's Eve, David surprises Polly with clothes sent over from the store, then shows her off to his rather snooty friends and ex as a Polish princess. Despite his obvious affections for Polly, David keeps them and his relationship with her a secret from his father.

Now come the kicker. Freddie, who has been wanting Polly for his own, decides that Polly's baby is also David's. Freddie sends a blackmail letter to J.B. and J.B. in turn takes it upon himself to have his butler follow David as he makes his way about town. Meeting up with David and Polly in the park, J.B. declares that the child is his grandson. David, of course, denies any involvement and promptly goes to Freddie with a bribe for him to admit that he is the father of Polly's baby. Meanwhile, Mrs. Weiss agrees to allow her grandson, Jerome (Leonard Penn) to pretend to be the baby's father.

Regrettably, the foursome of Freddie, David, Polly and Jerome all arrive at the same time to admit to J.B. that they are both the father of the baby. Unable to convince J.B. of the truth, and suddenly realizing just how much he loves Polly, David declares himself to be the father and proposes marriage to Polly.

Bachelor Mother is sublime screwball with Rogers and Niven at their absolute best. The convolutions of the narrative really do take a backseat to the wonderful reactions each actor provides us throughout this hapless story. Watching Polly and David's gradual acceptance in becoming a couple under the most improbable of circumstances is a sheer delight from start to finish. In 1956, director Norman Taurog tried to recapture the magic of this classy classic with Bundle of Joy - a musical adaptation co-starring then real life couple Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher: a garish, glossy and gargantuan misfire in everyone's careers.

Bachelor Mother is part of the Warner Archive Collection. Inherent age related artefacts are present throughout this rather grainy and occasionally softly focused transfer. The B&W image exhibits an adequate gray scale but lower than anticipated contrast levels. When the image is solid it can be pleasing. More often than not, however, it is simply middle of the road. The audio is mono as originally recorded and exhibits hiss and pop. There are NO EXTRAS.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)






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